On more than one occasion I have had the guilty pleasure of expounding the benefits of my $160 LumoPro LP 160 in comparison to a pricey ($400 and up) Nikon/Canon flash to photographers who immediately display their cognitive dissonance through facial expressions.
This situation just presented itself to me again recently while I was at a workshop being given by Dave Hamilton (And I truly mean given, as he was gracious enough to offer up the day for free..thanks Dave!) I spotted a girl having trouble with her brand spankin’ new 580exII, so I offered some assistance. She was trying to figure out how to get her flash into ‘optical slave’ mode, so I had to be the bearer of bad news and tell her that her flash (and no Canon flashes for that matter) didn’t have an optical slave….. but my cheap-o LP160 that I had happened to lend out to her friend for the day did..
So… I figured I’d try to save others from this horrible experience by explaining that if you are not using a whopping 3 functions (for the most part) YOU DON’T NEED A $500 SPEEDLIGHT!
~E-TTL/ i-TTL/ CLS~
TTL stands for ‘through the lens’ metering, in which the camera meters the scene as it sees it through the lens, rather than through a separate metering mechanism. What happens in TTL, is that the camera meters a scene and tells the flash the power it should output based on the aperture that your camera is set at and the distance to the subject (which is calculated via the camera’s focus points). You can +/- this exposure as well, but I don’t want to get into the logistics of this right now… what is TTL great for? doing run-and-gun wedding work where you’ll jump between having your subject up close and far away and you need to capture moments, not chimp and then correct your flash output manually.
CLS is Nikon’s “Creative Lighting System” (Canon has a similar system as well).
CLS allows you to remotely fire flashes via a commander flash on camera, the built in pop up flash, or a SU-800 commander device. A really cool thing about CLS, is that you can not only trigger these flashes without radio triggers, but you can also dictate the flash outputs of numerous flashes in up to 3 groups.. all from camera… really, really, cool stuff that I’m interested in.. but for the sake of this post.. if you’re not using CLS or TTL.. you should save yourself some dough~
~Rear Curtain Sync~
Generally, your flash is set to fire at the beginning of an exposure, regardless of how long your shutter is open. while this doesn’t matter at faster shutter speeds, it doesn’t play well with slower shutter speeds (think 1/20s and slower). RCS which is only available with proprietary flashes, allows you to have the flash fire at the very end of your exposure. This is generally called ‘burn and flash’ where you ‘burn’ in the low ambient light, and then freeze your subject with the flash right as the shutter closes.. check out Syl Arena’s post on RCS (page 6 at the bottom) to learn more about how this all works..
~High Speed Sync~
Cameras generally have a sync speed of 1/250, which means that if you exceed this speed you’ll get a black bar coming into your image, which is your shutter closing faster than the flash can sync with your camera. In HSS, the flash becomes practically becomes a continuous light source by emitting thousands of bursts of light per second, giving you the ability to shoot a shutter speeds up to 1/8000 of a second. This is great for overpowering bright ambient light, freezing motion, and shooting at wider apertures.
Are these all amazing functions and justification for spending $400+ on a flash? Yup… you better believe it. I’m actually very interested in utilizing all three of these functions. But that’s not why I’m writing this post 😉
If you’re anything like me and only have one (cheap-o) flash..or you think David Hobby is the second coming, and you swear by the gospel of manual flash, then you should think twice before dumping a good sack of beer money on a fancy flash.
~What does the LP160 offer?~
-Power control in full stops from 1/1 – 1/64
-Motorized zoom control from 24 – 105mm
-Built in optical slave eye..(this is one of THE best features of the LP160, I’ve seen SB-900s not fire in situations in which the LP would. Not only is the eye extremely sensitive and works even in full blown daylight, but it also has 2 different modes, one standard, and one that ignores the pre-flashes from units operating TTL… this is great as it allows you to implement a LP into a TTL setup…now I just wish it had a mode to ignore the flashes from the flashes of guests at a wedding!)
-Rotating head which goes 150 degrees one way and 180 the other..without needing to push a button first!
– PC and 1/8″ miniphone sync jacks.. for any of ya that know… PC cables are not only expensive, but also are prone to breaking and falling out of the flash at important moments.. not so with the miniphone jacks..
– Power that is on par with an SB900 or 580exII.. I’ve heard that it is either equal or about 1/3 of a stop less.
-If you break it, or god forbid, have it stolen, you’re out only $160, not $400+ 😉
As a side note: if you want to be getting that flash off of your camera and modify it to look nice,
you can grab this kit from MPEX for a whopping, $310 US…. so if you’re just getting into lighting and want to learn, stop salivating over that SB900 and grab this kit!!
And finally… a couple of images with the kit.